A long marriage is two people trying to dance a duet and two solos at the same time.
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~Anne Taylor Fleming
Autism Marriage Challenge: Meeting Your Needs
Both autism marriage and marriage and general can be challenging.
My wife and I: One of our stories
My wife and I sat in the marriage counselor’s office. Several quarrels between us led us to agree we needed a neutral third person to help us sort through our frustration. As we talked, two things became clear.
My wife wanted me to be more active in completing outside projects for our home. And I wanted more affirmation and hugs.
The problem was, we didn’t really ask each other to do these things. We expected each other to understand how important these things were, but didn’t know how to name our needs and talk to each other about them.
Identifying and Communicating Your Needs
In marriage, each partner should identify and communicate his needs to his partner effectively, to build a healthy relationship.
1. Unmet needs lead to frustration, disappointment, and resentment.
In the example I gave from my marriage, my wife felt unloved and uncared for when the outside of the house went unattended. I’m not a very handy person, so I tend to gravitate to my work or inside chores. But my wife’s brothers are very handy and very diligent in maintaining their homes. My wife needs and expects the same diligence from me.
I didn’t realize how important that was to her. She would make comments about the outside yard work needing to be done, or how the leaves were piling up in the gutters during the fall, but I didn’t realize she was really trying to communicate to me she wanted these things done.
Over time, she became frustrated, discouraged, and started resenting me.
2. If we don’t communicate my needs effectively to our partner, s/he won’t be able to help meet our needs.
Words of affirmation and hugs are very important to me. They’re my love language! In other words, I feel loved when my wife encourages me with written or spoken words, or if she gives me spontaneous hugs.
She didn’t realize how important this was to me. When she complained that I was lazy, or “How many times do I have to talk about the outside?!” , all I heard was her critical tone. And I just got frustrated, disappointed, and resented her. Put that together with my perceived lack of warmth, because she didn’t exactly feel like hugging me when I wasn’t doing any outside work, and you can understand how frustrated we were becoming with each other!
3. When you and your partner work on meeting each other’s needs, you’ll be closer, happier, and more satisfied.
The marriage counselor helped us realize we needed to communicate clearly and specifically, and that we each needed to make the effort to meet the other’s needs. Do I still fail to get outside work done? Yes! But today, I raked the outside leaves, wound up the house and put it in the garage for the winter, and could see how happy my wife was as I did so.
My wife catches herself at times when she’s venting, realizing that I need positive encouragement. And she surprises me with hugs that put a smile on my face.
It’s a work in progress, but when each of us seek to meet needs we know are important to each other, we find that we’re both happier and more satisfied with our marriage.
Figuring Out What You Need and How To Get It
Here is some marriage advice from Dr. Cindy N. Ariel, PhD, author of Loving Someone with Asperger’s Syndrome for figuring out what you need and how to get it in your marriage.
Define the Essentials
In this exercise, Dr. Ariel has you do the following:
1. Write down at least 10 needs that apply to you in your current relationship. Look at all three lists in the Common Relationship Needs table to find qualities that you believe would make you feel more loved by our partner. You can use words not found on those lists if they more adequately express your needs.
(In the Common Relationship Needs table below, AS stands for autism spectrum.)
|CommonNon-AS Needs||CommonNeeds for Both||CommonAS Needs|
More help with chores
Loving me as I am
Valued for accomplishments
A calm environmentCertaintyConsistency
Time for special interest
2. Compare each of your needs and identify your highest priorities. Rewrite your list in order of priority, with your most crucial needs at the top of the list.
Per Dr. Ariel,
You can do this exercise with your partner by, together, identifying at least five needs that you both share and branching out from there into the areas where your needs vary. Using this exercise to identify your partner’s needs will also help you lean to reconcile your needs with his/hers in order to keep you both feeling loved and cared for. If you must do this exercise alone, use what you know about your partner to take his/her needs into account. The valuable information will help you proceed to make important changes in your relationship.
3. Each of you should make a personal goal in the next month to just meet one of the top five needs for your partner.
For example, I know that my wife would like more help with the chores.
Therefore, I’ll make my personal goal look like this:
Each day, I will ask my wife for one added personal chore I can carry out for her that day. At the end of the week, I’ll ask her how I’m doing.
I think you get the idea.
4. Please be very clear and specific with each other about what you need.
For example, my wife Vicki will say to me, when we’re both upstairs, “Are you going downstairs?”
For years, I would just answer, “No.”
She was hurt because I didn’t care enough to ask what she needed.
I just thought she was asking a question!
She could have been more helpful to me by saying, “Steve, will you please go downstairs and check to make sure that the back door is locked?”
In the same way, autistic adults often need very specific and direct requests.
Dr. Ariel shares the example of Nancy. Nancy always made a fuss about her partner’s birthday. When her own birthday comes around, she expects a very special occasion in return. But her partner never makes a special effort. When Dr. Ariel spoke to Nancy, Nancy was sure that her partner could tell she was upset, because she would get very quiet at these times, and avoid him for the night. “He knows what I want, but doesn’t follow through,” she told Dr. Ariel.
Dr. Ariel suggested that Nancy tell her partner where and when to make reservations, and exactly what she wanted to happen on her birthday at least one week before it came up.
Her partner followed through with her request, and Nancy celebrated the best birthday since the beginning of her seven year relationship.
Copyright: wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo
What are some of your top relationship needs? What personal goal do you have for yourself this week?